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Karen Kamwari: Tiktoker, actor and chef

Arts Lounge

Producing video content capable of attracting over 644,000 views is no mean feat. However, a filmmaker turned content creator Karen Rollier, better known as Kamwari, has successfully navigated the unpredictable landscape of social media influencing.

Using skills she learned through her filmmaking background she has managed to be the go-to TikToker for “beginner-friendly” recipes.

Kamwari has carved out a niche among her primarily “bachelor “audiences some of whom are venturing into cooking for the first time.

Her culinary creations are crafted from simple ingredients, commonly found at the local mama mbogas, that she then transforms into tantalizing meals.

However, Kamwari remains a staunch advocate for cultivating additional income streams alongside her online presence.

In an exclusive interview, Kamwari who is also a Guinness brand ambassador, opened up about her journey into creating content, the influencing scene, and working with world-renowned brands.

Small girl

Born and raised in Mombasa, Kamwari attributed her passion for cooking to her hometown’s vibrant cultural blend

“Mombasa has been home since I was born. My family is originally from Meru which is how I got my nickname Kamwari, which means “small girl” in the Meru culture. However, Mombasa is like a melting pot of people from all over the world and that was home for me.

Kamwari reminisced about her formative years, revealing that the kitchen was her haven. Whether she was frying potatoes or learning to make oxtail, something was always cooking.”

Hailing from a family of creatives – her mother a volleyball player and her father a figure in the film industry – Kamwari’s career path was destined for creativity.

She says: “I never wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. I always knew it had to be something that was creative and that’s what drew me into film. Although I was shy to be in front of the camera, I knew I wanted to study theatre arts and film technology to become a storyteller.”

Kamwari traces her culinary passions back to her mother’s kitchen, where she initially learned to prepare basic meals for her family.

“I learned how to make basic meals for my family and that’s what I wanted to teach others. I also experiment a lot with Swahili food like different ways to make rice, for example, pilau and biryani. I show my viewers how to make a lot of one-pot meals,” she says.

Embarking on her content creation journey two years ago, Kamwari has since garnered an impressive following of 141 thousands across her Instagram and TikTok platforms combined.

“It’s an ongoing journey. Despite the two-year mark, I’m still fine-tuning my page curation. My focus remains on TikTok and Instagram. YouTube demands more intensive commitment, resembling a nine-to-five job. I’m dedicated to teaching the art of transforming basic ingredients like chicken, fish, and beans into diverse, delicious meals.”

When discussing the gratification, she derives from audience recognition, Kamwari says: “Some people tell me; my friend your recipes are holding down my house. While I am capable of intricate recipes, my content’s essence lies in its practicality. I find great joy in generating ideas, drawing inspiration, and persevering through trial and error to perfect recipes, making them accessible to all.”

Addressing her newfound fame, Kamwari says, “I’m actually a shy person, but when I’m out it's mostly the men who recognize me. The bachelors, which makes me happy. It’s hard to tell a story in 30 seconds but I get joy when people watch the videos from beginning to end.”

This validation resonates deeply with her as she strives to captivate viewers through her short videos.

Simple start, even with minimal resources

Speaking on her aspirations for the future of content creation, Kamwari says: “As a role model for aspiring content creators, my advice is simple start, even with minimal resources. I began with just my phone. I also recommend that if you’re doing the influencing thing you also have another job or other source of income because the jobs fluctuate so much.

“Last year was one of the hardest years for content creators. Brands also change their minds on which creators they want to work with so having another stable income is crucial.”

Anticipating the influencing scene in five years, Kamwari voiced her hopes for improved compensation for creators. She acknowledged that better pay to creators translates to better quality in production in advertising the products. She called for a body made up of content creators who are protective of the industry and are capable of intervening in payment disputes and uniting creators’ voices.

She concluded with a plea for equitable treatment, stating, “It’s unjust for the government to impose higher taxes without fostering our creative industry. We need a fair system that values and nurtures content creation.”

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